The icon of Sinai

Publish date 26-02-2022

by Chiara Dal Corso

A very famous icon, one of the oldest found, from the sixth century, preserved in the monastery of Santa Caterina del Sinai.
It belongs to the model of Jesus Christ Pantocrator, which means "Almighty" and "Lord of the Universe".

It depicts Christ in a bust, blessing with his right hand and holding the book of the Word of God with his left. Yet, while depicting one of the most popular models of iconography, this icon retains features that make it unique. The first thing you notice is the style of the realization, which unlike the following icons, is decidedly more pictorial and gestural, with a more realistic impact, compared to the subsequent stylization of the elements of the drawing.
This gives us the impression of looking almost at a portrait. (For this reason it has been associated in technique and style with the portraits of Fayum, Egypt, of the same period).

And just by looking at this singular "portrait", getting very close to the face, we discover the wonder of this work: let's try to cover half of the face with a white sheet, for example the left half and observe. Then we move the sheet and cover the right half (it must be exactly half, with the edge of the sheet resting along the midline of the nose).

Do we notice any differences?
The differences are considerable, it will be seen that one half of the face is brighter, more relaxed, serene, beautiful than the other.
And that the other has a raised eyebrow, a swollen and red eye, a slightly bruised nose and cheek ... even the lips are a little raised in an expression of pain. Yes, this side presents the face of a man who has been beaten, who has suffered a lot.

It represents Jesus in his passion, who lived and suffered in his humanity. Jesus man and suffering.
While in the other half we understand that it represents the risen Jesus, Jesus who has conquered death. Jesus God. Even the look helps us to understand it: the suffering part looks a little lower, towards us, and the luminous part looks a little higher, towards the Father.

Here then in a single image, in a single face, the identity of Jesus, true God and true man and also his history is represented: God who became man to bring us his Word, his continuous blessing, his life. divine and human, his passion, the pain he suffered for us, all his blood shed, for our salvation, to forgive us our sins and all our rebellions against him and open the way for us to return, to return to his heart, in his love, in the dream he had when he created us.

Chiara Dal Corso
NP November 2022

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